Penguins GM Shero: 'We're making the playoffs'
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Penguins general manager Ray Shero doesn't know when his team's six-game losing streak will end, isn't sure when center Sidney Crosby will return to the lineup and doesn't sound ready to make a significant trade.
But he is certain of one thing.
"We're making the playoffs, put it that way," Shero told the Tribune-Review on Thursday. "Anything less is unacceptable."
Shero declined to elaborate or discuss ramifications if the team failed to climb from the Eastern Conference's ninth slot, but he made it clear that seeing the injury-plagued Penguins out of postseason position isn't pleasant. Entering last night's games, they were one spot out of a playoff berth and trailed the New York Rangers by 12 points in the Atlantic Division race.
The Penguins were 11 points clear of Carolina, which had the Eastern Conference's worst record.
"Our players need to understand the urgency of the situation," Shero said. "We aren't (currently) battling for first in our division. We can't fool ourselves."
Shero has never been inclined to make impulsive trades, and not even the team's current woes appear to be enough to sway him.
"I like the team we have now," Shero said. "We have good hockey players. We just need to play better. And hopefully I have all those guys back by the trade deadline so I don't have to make a deal. It would be nice to actually have our team together and healthy."
Shero knows his team's struggles are linked to injuries to Crosby, center Jordan Staal and defenseman Kris Letang.
He wasn't, however, about to make excuses.
"I know we have good players out, but they are going to come back," Shero said. "Until then, we've got a job to do. We're in a rut right now, a real losing streak. We've got to get out of it. We have a good team."
Shero was not pleased with his team's 5-1 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday at Consol Energy Center. The Penguins followed that with a 1-0 setback in Washington on Wednesday, but Shero saw a different team, perhaps one that is about to rise above this funk.
"Playing with character is the big thing," he said. "Against Washington we played like men. We've got to get back to where we were."
It has been quite a fall.
Five weeks ago, the Penguins were first in the Eastern Conference and had their top three centers — Crosby, Staal and Evgeni Malkin — together for the first time in two years.
Then Crosby went down again with concussion-like symptoms. Staal and Letang, and a number of others, followed with injuries. Some believe the Penguins have become psychologically damaged, as well.
"I don't believe this team is fragile," Shero said. "We've got character guys, guys who have won Cups. It's being tough mentally. I didn't like the Ottawa game. I didn't like the game in Ottawa last month. We need to be better than that."
Shero still believes his team is a Stanley Cup contender when healthy.
"Just making the playoffs," Shero said, "is never our goal."
The Penguins have never missed the playoffs under general manager Ray Shero's watch:
2006-07 season: No. 5 seed (first-round loss to Ottawa)
2007-08 season: No. 2 seed (loss in Stanley Cup Final to Detroit)
2008-09 season: No. 4 seed (won Stanley Cup)
2009-10 season: No. 4 seed (second-round loss to Montreal)
2010-11 season: No. 4 seed (first-round loss to Tampa Bay)
2011-12 season: Currently No. 9 seed